The end of 2017 painted a concerning time for Prime Minister Netanyahu, with anti-corruption protests from the left and right of public opinion making it a long December for the Likud leader. Both ministers and party members are now openly considering the consequences of a post-Netanyahu government, especially when there is significant discontent among the right with the current Prime Minister over corruption allegations. The impact of Likud leadership hopefuls slowly coming into the fray, joint with public pressure on Netanyahu, has presented itself after the long December as 2018 is underway.
And it was reflected this past week in what appears to be contradicting New Year’s resolutions: one being a proposed imposition of Israeli law on all occupied territories, and secondly an agreement with an EU body to support the boycotting of occupation. The prior resolution was effectively a move to the annexation of territories adjacent to Israel within the Green Line. The European resolution on the other hand, contained an agreement of boycotting further occupation. This apparent contradiction may be reminiscent to some of Netanyahu’s stance in the lead-up to Ariel Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza well over a decade ago.
At that time finance minister Netanyahu pushed Sharon to call a referendum on the policy that was controversial on the left and right for a variety of reasons, just as anti-corruption campaigns are finding cross-ideological support. Sharon initially agreed to Netanyahu’s request but no referendum came of it, and Netanyahu wound up ultimately supporting the withdrawal anyway. The reason it is worth drawing this historical parallel is because it is the first time that glimmers of anything like an, if not united, at least a wider and serious opposition to Netanyahu is emerging. The result being, as the past week has shown, an apparent hypocrisy from Israel’s leading party.
The several Likud ‘heavyweights’, emboldened by an American leadership that is arguably even further to the right of them but also staking out their claim as the next strong leader for Israel, proposed the resolution which is de jure annexation on occupied territories. Ironically, it was Netanyahu who clamped down on the ‘non-binding’ declaration to limit it to certain established Israeli Jewish settlements only. It was also the Prime Minister who signed off with the European community which was a multi-lateral agreement worth 84.6 million Euros (over 100 million Dollars), with his cabinet begrudgingly playing along. This agreement obviously excludes the settlements.
While it could be argued that the European agreement is a pragmatic step in the name of further investment for Israel and the resolution on settlements is more an ideological statement, it is crucial to consider the implications of this seeming hypocrisy. Fundamentally, it is the warning sign of a further rightward lurch after Netanyahu, who already has moved political discourse substantially to the right throughout his tenure. Exacerbated by the confidence and support of the Trump administration, we could see strong right-wing voices vying for position and policy that would intensify the gulf between them and the ostensibly moderate and those on the left – in a nutshell, a heightened likelihood for instability and division at the next national election.
As Netanyahu sides with Iranian protesters but refuses to acknowledge protesters inside his own jurisdiction, he is losing his popular grip on power at home; indeed, resorting to banning BDS-aligned activist groups around the world does not seem to benefit anyone apart from satisfying the Likud’s nationalist base. It may be a matter of time before the wider voting public share the sentiments of the protesters who march the streets demanding a new, cleaner kind of leadership. With the Likud political establishment grooming their image for a shot at Netanyahu’s job, a significant chunk of Israeli voters wonder why costs of living are rising almost inexorably. As in Europe, America, and other parts of the world, Israel can soon be fertile ground for another populist insurgence to challenge the national political establishment.
Of course, populism can emerge in various stripes, but with the broad right having had electoral power for so long now, many on the left will be hoping for something ala Bernie Sanders in the US, if only they could settle on a credible leader to galvanise disillusioned progressives. For leftists, there is finally a chance of significant revival, and even a hope of influencing the balance of power at the next election. For the right, it could be an opportunity to revisit the old adage that in Israeli politics that only the right can brings down the right, with the Likud falling by the sheer weight of their own contradictions.